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Health & Parenting

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'Extreme Drinking' Common at Colleges

1 in 5 Men and 1 in 10 Women Show Pattern in Study of First-Year Students
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 24, 2006 -- Get ready to learn a new term about over-the-top alcohol use among college students.

The term is "extreme drinking," and it's described in June's issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. Extreme drinking goes way beyond the minimum threshold for binge drinking, note Aaron White, PhD, and colleagues.

Binge drinking is defined as at least four drinks per occasion for women and at least five drinks per occasion for men. Extreme drinking doubles or even triples those minimum amounts, notes White, who works in Duke University Medical Center's psychiatry department.

White's team studied data from an online survey of 10,424 first-year students at 14 unnamed U.S. colleges. The students took the surveys in 2003 before taking an alcohol education and prevention course.

The students reported how many drinks they'd had each day for the two previous weeks. Their answers were anonymous.

Levels of Extreme Drinking

The surveys showed that a "surprisingly large percentage of students, particularly males, drink at peak levels well beyond the binge threshold," write White and colleagues.

The findings include:

  • 1 in 5 men reported drinking 10 or more drinks on at least one day (double men's binge-drinking threshold).
  • 1 in 10 women reported drinking 8 or more drinks on at least one day (double women's binge-drinking threshold).
  • Nearly 8% of men reported drinking 15 or more drinks on at least one day (triple men's binge-drinking threshold).
  • Nearly 2% of women reported drinking 12 or more drinks on at least one day (triple women's binge-drinking threshold).

Extreme drinking was most common among men. People who frequently passed the binge-drinking threshold were the most likely to have at least one extreme drinking episode in the previous two weeks.

About 55% of all students reported drinking alcohol in the two weeks before the survey. Most didn't engage in extreme drinking, the researchers also report.

The average number of drinks per occasion were almost six for men and nearly four for women. Underage men and women averaged slightly fewer drinks per occasion (about four for men and three for women).

Extreme Drinking Underestimated?

If the students underestimated a drink's size, they might have underestimated how much they drank, the researchers note.

In 2005, White and colleagues reported that college students tend to underestimate how much alcohol is in a standard drink. A standard drink is 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled liquor in a shot or mixed drink.

Obviously, extreme drinking can be extremely dangerous and even deadly. Colleges might do well to target extreme drinking when trying to curb alcohol's consequences among students, note White and colleagues.

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